Pulling off this meal takes serious organization and timing. Oven space is at a premium. There will be more pans to juggle than there are burners.
You’ll be thankful that the holiday cooking experts have plenty of tips and timelines to help, whether you’re cooking the Thanksgiving meal for the first time or the 15th.
We’ve compiled a timeline, recipes and tips from cookbooks, current magazines and websites that will help you get everything on the table at just the right moment (without forgetting the cranberry sauce in the fridge).
Here are four of the best timing tips and a schedule for a traditional menu that includes make-ahead recipes, quick sides and advice so you can spend your time with family and friends, instead of fretting over lumpy gravy.
1. Make a list – or two
Cookbook author Rick Rogers has traveled all over the country teaching his “Thanksgiving 101” classes. He makes lists for everything, he says in his popular book by the same name. Guests. Groceries. Utensils. Serving dishes.
He maps the table to ensure everything will fit. He labels serving platters and dishes with the items they’ll hold.
I love lists, but I’ll never take it quite that far. Here’s one of Rogers’ tips I will try: He tapes up a complete menu, including beverages and appetizers, in the kitchen and checks it off to make sure everything is served. Anyone can refer to the list if they want to help.
2. Delegate, carefully
Family, friends and guests want to help. I think it’s part of the fun. Take the pressure off by asking your aunt to bring the creamed onions everyone loves. Take your guests up on their offers to bring a favorite family recipe, or even experiment with something new. If you always forget appetizers, assign that course to a guest.
But, make sure you have the basics covered. If you’re relying on a guest to bring the cranberry sauce and they forget, run out of time, get sick or change their mind, you might have to serve dinner without it.
For those who promise to bring a dish, this is your chance to be a good guest. Commit early to a plan and let the host know with plenty of time when you decide to bring something different.
3. Get started early
Make-ahead strategies are one of the keys to pulling off this famously huge meal. Make sure those lists include get-it-done-early strategies for every dish you can manage.
Make pie crust in advance and store it in the freezer until you’re ready to make those desserts. Make a basic gravy recipe in advance and add drippings from the roasting pan before serving (there’s never enough to go around anyway).
Identify the last-minute task that stresses you out most and make it early. Scalloped potatoes or a make-ahead potato casserole can be a fine substitution for mashed. If that wouldn’t fly in your family, include time in your plan for mashing the spuds just before serving.
Make sure your menu and timeline take into consideration the oven space and burner count in your kitchen.
It can be difficult to know exactly when the turkey will be done roasting, but cooks can count on having about 45 minutes to an hour of oven time for stuffing, green bean casserole, creamed corn or sweet potatoes just before serving. The turkey needs to rest that long anyway.
4. Supplement from the store
If you’ve never baked yeast dinner rolls from scratch, this is not the time to try. If pie crust vexes you, purchase one or buy a pie. You can make the things you purchase special by splurging on the best offerings from a local bakery, restaurant or store.
Some of our favorite traditions started when someone brought a new store-bought discovery to the holiday meal. Two years ago, it was the Meyer lemon curd we spread on hearty whole-wheat rolls.
Rogers recommends asking the cheesemonger to suggest an assortment of cheeses for a simple hors d’oeuvre.
For beginners, the store-bought supplements might make up most of the meal. Don’t try to tackle too many from-scratch dishes. If you don’t have the skills to pull it off, it could end in disaster.
From Real Simple, November 2011
4 cups apple cider
2 tablespoons cider vinegar
4 tablespoons ( 1/2 stick) unsalted butter, at room temperature
Kosher salt and black pepper
4 stalks celery, halved crosswise
4 carrots, peeled and halved crosswise
2 medium onions, peeled and halved
1 12-pound turkey – thawed if frozen, giblets discarded, and patted dry
1 tart apple (such as Granny Smith or Pink Lady), halved
8 sprigs fresh thyme
8 sprigs fresh sage
Heat oven to 375 degrees. Make the cider glaze: In a large skillet, boil the cider until reduced to about ¾ cup, 25 to 30 minutes. Add the vinegar, 2 tablespoons of the butter, 1 teaspoon salt, and ½ teaspoon pepper and stir until the butter has melted.
Meanwhile, in a large roasting pan, scatter the celery, carrots, and onions; add 1 cup water. Season the turkey cavity with ½ teaspoon each salt and pepper and stuff with the apple, thyme, and sage. Tie the legs together with twine and tuck the wings underneath the body. Place the turkey on top of the vegetables, rub with the remaining 2 tablespoons of butter, and season with 2 teaspoons salt.
Roast the turkey, basting every 30 minutes with the pan juices, for 2 hours. Continue roasting, basting every 15 minutes with the cider glaze, until a thermometer inserted into the thickest part of a thigh registers 165 degrees, 30 to 60 minutes more. (Tent the bird loosely with foil if it browns too quickly; add 1 cup water to the pan if the vegetables begin to scorch.)
Carefully tilt the turkey to empty the juices from the cavity into the pan. Transfer the turkey to a cutting board, tent loosely with foil, and let rest for at least 30 minutes and up to 1 hour before carving. Reserve the pan and its contents for gravy.
Tip: The cider glaze can be made up to 3 days in advance; refrigerate, covered, and warm before serving. The vegetables can be peeled and cut up to 2 days in advance; refrigerate, covered.
Yield: 8 servings, with leftovers
Approximate nutrition per serving (from the magazine): 522 calories, 18 grams fat (7 grams saturated), 70 grams carbohydrate, 7 grams cholesterol, 2 grams dietary fiber, 267 milligrams sodium.
From “Happy Holidays by the Diva of Do-Ahead,” by Diane Phillips.
6 tablespoons unsalted butter or margarine
6 tablespoons all-purpose flour
4 cups chicken broth or turkey broth
Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
Drippings from the turkey pan
In a medium saucepan, melt butter and whisk in the flour. Cook over medium-high heat until the flour is incorporated and white bubbles begin to form on top. Cook for 2 to 3 minutes after the white bubbles have formed, whisking constantly.
Gradually add broth, whisking constantly and stirring until the gravy is thickened and comes to a boil. Remove from the heat and season with salt and pepper.
At this point, you can cool, cover, and refrigerate gravy for up to 4 days, or freeze for up to 6 weeks. Defrost before proceeding.
On Thanksgiving Day, heat gravy in a medium-size saucepan. When the turkey is done, pour off all the drippings into a jar or fat separator. Skim or spoon off all the fat and discard. Add drippings to the gravy and bring it to serving temperature.
Variations: Use giblets (heart, liver, gizzard) from the bag inside the turkey if your family likes them in gravy. Poach for 45 minutes in 2 cups chicken broth, until cooked through. Cool, finely chop, and add to finished gravy.
Gravy can be further thickened with a paste of beurre manié. Make a paste of 1 part flour to 1 part softened or melted butter, kneading the flour into the butter with a tablespoon. Whisk some beurre manié into the gravy after adding the drippings; bring back to a boil after each addition. Add more until gravy is thickened to your preference.
Yield: 4 cups
Cranberry Relish with Ginger
Adapted from Williams-Sonoma Collection Series, “Thanksgiving,” by Michael McLaughlin (Simon & Schuster, 2001).
The lively, clean flavor of fresh ginger is compatible with most fruits. In the market, look for ginger that is hard and heavy, with an unbroken peel that is thin, light colored, smooth and shiny. To prepare ginger, peel it with a vegetable peeler or paring knife before using as directed in a recipe.
1 orange, unpeeled and preferably organic, scrubbed
2 bags (12 oz. each) fresh cranberries
1 1/2 cups sugar
1/3 cup peeled and finely chopped fresh ginger
Cut the orange (with its peel on) into 16 chunks and discard any seeds. Working in batches, combine the orange chunks, cranberries, sugar and ginger in a food processor. Pulse to chop finely and evenly, stopping once or twice with each batch to scrape down the sides of the work bowl.
Transfer to a storage container, cover and refrigerate for at least 24 hours to develop the flavors. Bring to room temperature and stir well before serving.
Make-Ahead Tip: This relish improves when made in advance, since the flavors have more time to marry. Prepare it up to 3 days before serving.
Yield: 8 to 10 servings
Old Fashioned Do-Ahead Bread Stuffing
From “Happy Holidays by the Diva of Do-Ahead,” by Diane Phillips. She writes, “ I’ve never met a stuffing I didn’t like, and this simple stuffing flavored with sage, thyme, onion and celery can be jazzed up with your favorite additions. Although you can buy herb seasoned bread cubes in the grocery store, I urge you to use stale bread and dry it out in the oven, then add your own herbs, the difference is huge! If you are using leftover baguettes, with a hard crust, remove the tough parts of the crust, because they will absorb most of the liquid. I like to use a high quality white bread like Pepperidge Farm and include the crusts, as well.”
1 cup butter or margarine
2 cups chopped celery
2 cups chopped onion
1 tablespoon finely chopped fresh sage (or 1 teaspoon dried)
1 tablespoon finely chopped fresh thyme leaves (or 1 teaspoon dried)
12 cups stale dry bread cubes
1 tablespoon salt
½ teaspoon ground pepper
1 ½ to 2 cups chicken broth
1 large egg
Turkey drippings, or additional butter
Melt the butter over low heat in a large sauté pan and cook the celery, onion, sage and thyme until the onion is golden.
Place the bread cubes, salt and pepper in a large mixing bowl, and add the celery mixture, tossing to blend.
Pour broth over the stuffing ingredients, add the egg and stir to blend. Taste the stuffing for seasoning and adjust adding more salt, pepper, or herbs.
Diva Do-Ahead: At this point the cooled stuffing can be refrigerated for up to 3 days, or frozen for 1 month.
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Coat the inside of a 3-quart baking dish with cooking spray. Transfer the stuffing to the baking dish and bake for 30 minutes, basting with turkey drippings or butter halfway through the cooking time.
Diva Crowd-Pleaser: If you are serving a crowd, stuff the dressing into greased loaf pans and bake as directed. Turn the stuffing out of the loaf pans, and let rest for 5 minutes. Cut the stuffing with a serrated knife that has been coated with cooking spray and arrange the slices on a platter. Or, fill 18 wells in greased muffin tins with the stuffing and bake for 15 to 17 minutes, until golden.
Wet or Dry: If you like crispy stuffing, don’t drown your bread cubes in liquid, and bake the stuffing outside the turkey. For those who like a moist stuffing, stuff it inside the turkey, or add more liquid to the stuffing and bake it covered with aluminum foil in the oven.
Add while sautéing the onion and celery.
1 pound sliced mushrooms
½ pound crawfish tails
½ cup dried chopped apricots
½ cup dried cranberries
1 dozen oysters, chopped
1 cup pecan halves
Yield: Enough stuffing for a 14-18 pound bird. About 12 servings.
Brown Sugar Glazed Carrots with Rosemary and Pecans
From “Real Simple,” November 2011, by Dawn Perry.
1/2 cup pecan halves
3 pounds carrots – peeled, cut into 2-inch lengths, and halved lengthwise if large
1/2 cup packed light brown sugar
4 tablespoons ( 1/2 stick) unsalted butter
2 sprigs fresh rosemary
1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper
Kosher salt and black pepper
½ cup water
1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
Heat oven to 375 degrees. Spread the pecans on a rimmed baking sheet and toast in oven, tossing once, until fragrant, 6 to 8 minutes. Let cool, then roughly chop.
Meanwhile, in a large saucepan, combine the carrots, brown sugar, butter, rosemary, cayenne, water, 1 ½ teaspoons salt, and ¼ teaspoon pepper. Bring to a boil, reduce heat, cover, and simmer until the carrots begin to soften, 8 to 10 minutes. Uncover the saucepan and cook, stirring often, until the carrots are tender and the liquid has thickened, 10 to 15 minutes more.
Discard the rosemary and toss the carrots with the lemon juice and pecans.
Yield: 8 servings
Make-Ahead Mashed Potato Casserole
From “Thanksgiving 101,” by Rick Rodgers. This casserole can be prepared up to 1 day ahead.
5 pounds baking potatoes (such as russet, Idaho, Burbank or Eastern)
1 (8-ounce) package cream cheese, cut into chunks, at room temperature
1 cup sour cream
1/2 cup milk, reheated
1/2 teaspoon freshly milled white pepper
Chopped fresh chives or parsley, optional
Fill a large pot (at least 5 quarts) halfway with cold water. Peel the potatoes, cut into chunks about 1 1/2 inches square and drop them into the pot. Add more cold water to cover the potatoes by 1 to 2 inches. (The potatoes can be prepared to this point up to 4 hours ahead and stored at cool room temperature.)
Stir in enough salt until the water tastes mildly salted. Cover tightly and bring to a full boil over high heat, about 20 minutes. Reduce the heat to medium-low and set the lid askew. Cook at a moderate boil until the potatoes are tender when pierced with the tip of a small sharp knife, 15 to 20 minutes; add more boiling water, if needed, to keep the potatoes covered. Do not overcook the potatoes.
Drain the potatoes well and return to the warm pot. Add the cream cheese. Using the hand-held electric mixer, beat the potatoes until the cream cheese melts. Beat in the sour cream and milk. Season with 1 teaspoon salt and the pepper. Transfer to a buttered 9-by-13-inch baking dish. Cool completely. (The potatoes can be prepared up to 4 hours ahead, covered loosely with plastic wrap, and stored at cool room temperature or, cool, cover tightly with plastic wrap and refrigerate up to 1 day.)
Preheat the oven to 375 degrees.
Bake the casserole until the potatoes are heated through, 30 to 40 minutes. Serve hot, sprinkled with the chives or parsley, if using.
Yield: 8 to 12 servings
Shredded Brussels Sprouts with Pancetta
From Everyday Food, November 2011. Shred the Brussels sprouts and cook the pancetta, reserving the drippings, 1 day ahead. Refrigerate everything separately in airtight containers.
1/2 pound thinly sliced pancetta, diced small
Extra virgin olive oil, if needed
1 3/4 pounds Brussels sprouts, trimmed and shredded (10 cups, see note)
1 tablespoon chopped fresh rosemary leaves
3 tablespoons fresh lemon juice (from 1 lemon)
Coarse salt and ground pepper
In a large nonstick skillet, cook pancetta over medium heat, stirring occasionally, until crisp, 8 to 10 minutes. With a slotted spoon, transfer pancetta to paper towels to drain. Pour off all but 1/4 cup drippings, if necessary, add enough oil to measure 1/4 cup. Add Brussels spouts and cook, stirring occasionally, until crisp-tender, 10 minutes. Stir in rosemary and cook until fragrant, about 2 minutes. Stir in pancetta. Remove from heat, stir in lemon juice, and season with salt and pepper. Serve warm or at room temperature.
Note: A food processor shreds sprouts fast.
Yield: 8 servings
Approximate nutrition per serving (from the magazine): 145 calories, 8 grams fat (3 grams saturated), 12 grams protein, 9 grams carbohydrate.
Ginger Streusel Pumpkin Pie
From the “Taste of Home Baking Book,” 2011
1 sheet refrigerated pie pastry
3 eggs, lightly beaten
1 can (15 ounces) solid-pack pumpkin
1 1/2 cups heavy whipping cream
1/2 cup sugar
1/4 cup packed brown sugar
1 1/2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon ground allspice
1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1/4 teaspoon ground cloves
For the streusel:
1 cup all-purpose flour
1/2 cup packed brown sugar
1/2 cup cold butter, cubed
1/2 cup chopped walnuts
1/3 cup finely chopped crystallized ginger
On a lightly floured surface, unroll pastry. Transfer pastry to a 9-in. pie plate. Trim pastry to 1/2 inch beyond edge of plate; flute edges.
In a large bowl, whisk the eggs, pumpkin, cream, sugars, cinnamon, salt, allspice, nutmeg and cloves. Pour into pastry shell. Bake at 350 degrees for 40 minutes.
For the streusel: In a small bowl, combine flour and brown sugar; cut in butter until crumbly. Stir in walnuts and ginger. Gently sprinkle over filling.
Bake pie 15-25 minutes longer or until a knife inserted near the center comes out clean. Cool on a wire rack. Refrigerate leftovers.
Yield: 8 servings
Goat Cheese Stuffed Grapes
From Tiffany White, cooking instructor at The Kitchen Engine. She shared this recipe for goat cheese stuffed grapes. It takes a bit of work, but this appetizer won’t have to jostle for space in the oven with the turkey. White is teaching a holiday appetizers class at The Kitchen Engine Monday at 6 p.m. The class is $39. Call (509) 328-3335 for reservations or more details.
She writes, “You may know in the South they have their Holy Trinity: bell peppers, onions and celery. Well, for me, I have my own holy trinity; fruit, nuts and cheese. Any combination of these items almost always works. Whether it’s pears, blue cheese and walnuts or apricots, brie and hazelnuts. When making a salad, I always use this method. This tapa brings together all of my favorite components without having to make the salad. These bite-size grapes are always a hit and will disappear before you know it.”
One pound jumbo dark purple grapes
One package (usually between 4 and 5.3 ounces) goat cheese, room temperature
¼ cup scallions, finely sliced
¼ cup pistachios, crushed
Salt and pepper to taste
To make these grapes you must first hollow out the grapes. Wash the grapes and pick out all the largest ones first. Make a small slice off the bottom and top so that the grapes can stand up. On one end, scoop out the center of the grape. I have found the best way to do this is by using an old vegetable peeler, the kind that has an all-metal blade and tip. Use a circular motion, like you would if you were balling a melon.
For the filling, mix goat cheese and scallions in a mixing bowl. Add salt and pepper if necessary, depending on the type of goat cheese you bought. Place mixture in a large zip-top bag. Cut a small hole on the corner of the bag. Using the zip-top bag like a pastry bag, pipe a small amount of the goat cheese into the center of all the grapes. Dip the tops of the grapes into crushed pistachios. Arrange on a platter and serve.
Yield: 1 pound stuffed grapes